Sustainability comes in gradations. While many brands are taking commendable steps forward in becoming more eco-friendly, the use of plastics, even recycled, can come with downsides. After all, washing plastic-based fabrics can result in microplastic shedding, which can be harmful to both human health and the environment — and especially detrimental to ocean habitats. And, even if a company is using materials made from recycled plastics, most still rely on some new plastic as part of the blend used to construct swimsuits.
Swapping out plastic-based materials for biomaterials can be a more sustainable decision, although it’s mostly small brands going this direction right now, as bigger brands seem to be embracing recycled plastics (which is still a good start). When it comes to finding an alternative to plastic, however, not all biomaterials are created equal. Water use, energy consumption, renewability, and pollution also have to be taken into the equation and compared with the impact of recycled plastic, which can be difficult to factor. The following swimwear brands are using biomaterials to promote sustainability and minimize the use of new plastic.
As an alternative to a plastic-derived nylon or spandex, SLO Active uses natural rubber that is Forest Stewardship Council® certified by the Rainforest Alliance to certify sustainability. Not only is the rubber eco-friendly, it’s also durable for regular ocean use and contours to the body for a flattering fit. Designed in the U.K. and produced ethically in Italy, SLO Active’s swimwear is designed to be timeless and break the fast fashion cycle with pieces that can be worn for years instead of a single season. The company even offers mending services for swimsuits that need repair. And, SLO Active donates to one of three ocean charities with every purchase.
Vitamin A offers a line of swimsuits made with a biomaterial derived from castor beans. Even so, the material is a blend that also includes Lycra — which is derived from plastic. As it turns out, even the swimsuits utilizing biomaterials generally rely on some plastic-derived materials to maintain shape and support. Nonetheless, cutting plastic out of 77% of the blend is still a step in the right direction and is helping to cut overall plastic consumption when compared with most swimwear on the market.
Instead of using synthetic materials, Natasha Tonic uses hemp, which grows quickly and produces more fiber than cotton or flax. Hemp also requires 75% less water to grow than cotton, which is important when it comes to sustainability. And, hemp also helps to detoxify the soil, removes CO2 from the air, and doesn’t need pesticides, further establishing it as an eco-friendly option. As a bonus, it’s also antimicrobial.
She Made Me
The main material used for She Made Me swimsuits is 100% cotton. While cotton isn’t always the most sustainable biomaterial because of the crop’s need for water and sometimes pesticides, She Made Me keeps its production sustainable by having artisan women in Bali hand-knit its suits in small batches under ethical and eco-friendly conditions. Purchasing a suit from the company supports the company’s mission of empowering women artisans and cutting back on the use of plastics in swimwear.